British army chief General Sir David Richards said on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that a worsening of the humanitarian crisis in Syria “may well provoke calls to intervene in a limited way” although he cautioned that it would amount to a “huge effort” nonetheless.
Richards’ comment comes mere days after British prime minister David Cameron announced that he was considering military options to remove Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad whose armed forces have been locked in a fierce civil war with mostly Sunni insurgents for nearly twenty months.
In a separate BBC interview, defense secretary Philip Hammond said that the United Kingdom did not “rule out” military intervention in Syria although he stressed that the emphasis was on finding a diplomatic solution that involved China and Russia. Both countries have blocked United Nations Security Council sanctions that would have called on Assad to step aside.
In an interview with Newsweek in May, David Cameron seemed less concerned about Chinese and Russian objections. “I think Kosovo proved that there are occasions when your responsibility to protect — to save lives, to stop slaughter, to act in a way that is both morally right but also in your own national interest — that there are occasions when you can do that without a UN resolution,” he said.
With Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president at the time, Cameron was the driving force behind the multilateral intervention in Libya last year which was sanctioned by the Security Council.
China and Russia are reluctant to vote for a similar adventure in Syria because, as they see it, NATO airpower didn’t just protect civilians in Libya per its mandate but actively helped topple the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
According to General Richards, “The main thing for now we’re all focusing on is to contain the crisis so it doesn’t spill over into countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey.” But he also said that “there is no military reason” for Britain not to intervene whereas Assad said in an interview with Russia’s RT television station that aired on Thursday that the price of foreign intervention would be “more than the whole world can afford,” describing his country as “the last stronghold of secularism” in the Middle East. If Assad’s government falls, a majority Sunni regime would likely replace it.